Test in the West, Feb. 3-8, California Speedway/Phoenix International Raceway
INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2003 -- Quotes from selected IRL IndyCar Series drivers about the annual Test in the West Open Test on Feb. 3-4 at California Speedway and Feb. 6-8 at Phoenix International Raceway (quotes listed in alphabetical order, with driver, car number, entrant, chassis/engine/tire):
MICHAEL ANDRETTI (No. 7 Andretti Green Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "We've had a few opportunities to test the new Andretti Green cars, and visiting both California Speedway and Phoenix again will give us another chance to understand how the Dallara/Honda/Firestone performs on two very different types of racetracks. We are going out west with the goal of gaining greater insight into our strengths as well as assessing what areas we still would like to work on before the season opener at Homestead in March. We are very excited about the new challenges that the IndyCar Series offers us, and we have been working non-stop to get ready to start the season. It should be an excellent experience and a good way to take a look at some of the competition we'll face in 2003."
KENNY BRACK (No. 15 Team Rahal Dallara/Honda/Firestone, 1998 IRL IndyCar Series champion, 1999 Indianapolis 500 winner): "It feels good to be back with Team Rahal and many of our crew that was so strong for me in 2001 (when Brack won four races and six poles in CART). It was a reunion with many of our same team, and that has been very good in getting things up to speed. The Honda people have been great in our first couple of tests, as I am new to their systems and engine. But I'm excited how things have gone so far. The new Pioneer and Miller Lite car has a cool paint scheme, and it's great to have three major corporations -- Honda, Pioneer and Miller -- behind our effort. It feels good to be back in the IRL. The IRL is a very competitive series, and the 2003 season should be tough." (About Test in the West): "Coming to Fontana will be a good test for us to see where we mix in with the other IRL teams. If the conditions are good, we'll have a good idea how we are doing so far this year. It's still early, but the Test in the West gives everyone a chance to match up where they are competitively. Obviously, the Fontana test is a good superspeedway mark for us, and Phoenix is good for the short oval setup. They are much different, and our engineers and crew will have some work to get the cars ready for the week. But I feel we'll be pretty good. The Honda engine is progressing very well. I have enjoyed working with Honda." (About offseason): "I have had a great offseason, getting back in the thick of things with the team and catching up with everyone. I was able to play guitar with several of friends at some clubs in Indy and in Sweden. That was very relaxing for me."
EDDIE CHEEVER JR. (No. 51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone, 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner, former Phoenix resident): "It's been a long time since I have driven. Since the Texas race, I have worked non-stop setting up two new companies and taking care of business. I am looking forward to getting out of the office and into the race car. My goals for Test in the West are twofold. First I am there to help Buddy and the Red Bull crew get up to speed with the new Dallara-Chevrolet package. We have a new team manager, Max Jones, who is taking the bull by the horns, and a new technical alliance with John Menard, MCT. All these new pieces need to be massaged into place to build the team into the force in needs to be to win races this season. Second, as a driver, this will be the first test in preparation for my only IndyCar Series race this year, the Indianapolis 500."
GIL DE FERRAN (No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone): "Test in the West is our first opportunity to get a read on how Marlboro Team Penske stacks up against the competition. It's like having 90 percent of the race-weekend atmosphere without the actual race. The track time is important in our preparation for the Fontana and Phoenix events. I really enjoy these Open Tests and wish we had more of them."
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone): "I think that this test is important because it will help Tomas, myself and Team Target see how they are doing in comparison to other teams. It will give us a good baseline to see if we are competitive yet. Most of the teams are going to be there, so it also helps us with the new (Panoz) G Force. The Toyota engine has been strong in our offseason tests, and I expect it to be very good at Fontana, as well. After this test, we have 30 days before the season opener in Homestead, so it's important that we have a good handle on the car." (About different skills required at California and Phoenix): "For the test at Fontana, there is not much driver skill needed until we get to the race. But once again, it helps the team more so. Also, the car manufacturers are trying to get the most drag out of the car, while maintaining drivability. This will be good to see how our Toyota engine is doing against all of the other engine manufacturers. Phoenix will be much different, as it is a little more of a driver's track. I will learn a lot from how I want to get the car to respond. It will be a big difference to a Champ Car as the minimum corner speed will be much greater. I am really looking forward to the test at Phoenix." (About test goals): "I just want to get many miles on the car that we can. I also want to get a lot of seat time to further acquaint myself with this new type of car. I need to get used to all of the differences that the IndyCar Series has. I want to be consistent and also be the fastest. I hope that we can come away from the test and say that this was one of our best tests. Team Target has worked very hard in the offseason, and I think that we'll be in good shape when the season starts." (About Test in the West as a yardstick for performance): "It will be very important for the teams. As I said before, it will help the engine manufacturers and also the car manufacturers see how they compare with each other. It is going to be a ver y competitive season, not only in terms of driver versus driver, but engine company and engine company. It's important for us to put a lot of miles on the car to learn as much as we can to be prepared for the season opener."
DARIO FRANCHITTI (Andretti Green Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "I'm really looking forward to the Test in the West. I've run the 2003 Dallara-Honda-Firestone at both California and Phoenix earlier this year, so now we will be able to see how we've improved. Having all the teams testing will also allow us to run the car in traffic and see how it reacts. We are still in the development stage, so being on track is important."
FELIPE GIAFFONE (No. 21 Mo Nunn Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone, 2001 IRL IndyCar Series Bombardier Rookie of the Year): "I am very excited to get back into the new Hollywood Toyota once again. This will only be our second (Fontana) and third (Phoenix) tests of the season. We had all of a day-and-a half down at Homestead, so far, and that was pretty much just a shakedown and familiarization with the new package. I was very, very happy with what we've done so far. I'm really impressed with the new Toyota engine. It was good right out of the box. As for the (Panoz) G Force, it's too early to say, but the (Panoz) G Force people are very motivated to work closely with us all through the testing season, and there is a lot of work to do. I'll know, for sure, where we are after a full day at Fontana. It's one of my favorite tracks, and it will give us a very good feeling for where we are. After that, we'll have just one more test down at Homestead before the season begins, so we'll definitely have to make the most out of it next week."
TONY KANAAN (Andretti Green Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "I'm looking forward to getting together with Michael (Andretti), Dario (Franchitti) and Daniel (Wheldon) at the Test in the West because it will be the first time that all of us will be able to compare our experiences in the car. I think what's important for Andretti Green Racing is that we go out every day and try to implement some of the things we've learned so far in testing. There's no point in getting too greedy and trying too hard to be the fastest out there. If we're fast, we're fast, but the focus needs to continue being on developing my Dallara/Honda/Firestone on both the superspeedway and the short oval. We're learning every step of the way, and that's what these tests are designed to help us do."
BUDDY RICE (No. 52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, Phoenix resident): "I am anxious to get in the car at California and Phoenix for the Test in the West. We saw a little bit of what the other teams had at Homestead, but this will be a better measure. Still we are concentrating on what we need to get done. We have a limited number of test days and a lot of work to do with our new Red Bull Dallara-Chevrolet package. For the first time this year, Eddie will be testing with us, which will help with this workload. It will be an important week for us."
TOMAS SCHECKTER (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone): "As always, I want to be near the top of the speed charts. It's important that we are competitive, and I think that we will be. It will be the first true test to see how we stack up. I'm excited for all the guys at Team Target. They have not had too much time off since the season ended. They have worked very hard putting the new cars together for us to drive. It's going to be a great season, and I can't wait to get it started."
TORA TAKAGI (Mo Nunn Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone): "So far, so good for me and my new team. I made it down to Homestead for half of a day earlier this month. It was my very first time ever in an IndyCar (Series) car, and I never really got a chance to run hard. And I had to do it after flying all night to get there from an appearance at Las Vegas for my sponsor, Pioneer. Next week will be the true beginning of the test season for me. I am very excited. Fontana will be interesting for us next week, but I'm not that concerned about Fontana as I am about how we do at Phoenix. The Fontana race is still eight months away, but I think it's going to be very competitive at Phoenix, and I really want to concentrate on that track since the race there is a little more than a month after our test. I really want to know where we're at on the 1-mile tracks. It will be good, though, to know how these IndyCar Series cars behave on the superspeedways, too. I'm really excited about having a teammate for the first time in America. Having Felipe to exchange comments about the cars was very important with the short time we had at Homestead. Nobody knows who's really doing what out there at this time of year, but I'd really like to surprise some people. We'll see how it goes."
DAN WHELDON (No. 7 Andretti Green Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "I'm really excited about the Test in the West. It is a great opportunity to work with the team in more of a race-weekend environment. The test also gives me an opportunity to compare what I'm feeling in the car to what the other drivers at Andretti Green Racing are experiencing. I'm also excited because we will be able to see how we compare with all the other teams. I don't think running a fast time during the test will mean you will be fast all year long, but I do believe it will give the team confidence heading into the season. I'm pretty sure our strategy for the test is going to be getting a solid, well-balanced race car. We'll probably do a couple of long runs and try and work in some traffic. Then at the end of the day, trim the car out to post a quick time."
ROGER YASUKAWA (No. 55 Super Aguri Fernandez Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone, Los Angeles resident): "I am certainly looking forward to the test. It will be my first opportunity to run with all the other drivers. The most important thing for me is to get used to drafting. At the same time, I still need to prove I have the speed, and I have to make sure that everyone else is comfortable running with me in the draft. That is basically going to be my focus next week. The team is working well, and we had a productive test last week, so we have a really good baseline to start off with. There are a lot more things that we need to get done, but I am very comfortable with the whole program. Hopefully we will come out of the Test in the West in great shape for the first race." (About diverse skills required at California and Phoenix): "Obviously, these two tracks are totally different. One is a short oval and probably the most-challenging track on the IRL (IndyCar Series) schedule, and Fontana is a superspeedway and really fast. For me, running at Fontana with all the other drivers is going to be something totally new. I did short-oval races in Toyota Atlantics and in Barber Dodge. At both tracks, the speed is much higher than what I am used to, and whether it is a superspeedway or short oval, I really have to pay attention to what is happening around me. The basic skills stay the same, and physics apply to everything." (Goals for the test): "Being a driver, I would always love to be the fastest, but having said that, it is not the most important thing at the test. What is important is to gather as much information as we can to prepare ourselves for the first race and the whole season, and that's what our main aim is going to be. I think Tom (Anderson, managing director) and John (Dick, race engineer) will have a great plan for the test, and we just need to follow it accordingly."